It matters that I am my work

[The common refrain is t]hat what you do for work doesn’t define you. That the health, hobbies, and relationships you cultivate outside the office are more important. That you’re a human being, and not a human doing, damnit.

It’s the kind of thing that sounds great in the abstract. Yet, no matter how often we rehearse it cognitively and rhetorically, it never entirely resonates viscerally.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/career-wealth/career/you-are-kind-of-your-job/

I define “work” as: The things I do so that I can trade the results with others. We can all trade in many ways, but a common way to trade is to use money as a way of storing and exchanging value. I don’t think I’m veering off into economics. That definition is critical. There are an enormous number of things which I do that, by that definition are not what I’d consider “work.” How much work one does in terms of hours-spent is going to vary tremendously (and it’s going to vary for countless reasons). There are 168 hours in a 7-day week. If one works 50 hours a week, that’s fully 30% of your total time. Conversely, if one works 5 hours, it’s 3%.

Let’s take it as true that what one does for work matters. That it matters in a real way, which affects your physical and mental health. I do believe that one is able to outgrow this need for meaningful work; I do think one can grow from our inherent nature of a being in need of meaningful doing, to become simply a human being as Mckay (and many others through history) has pointed out.

As one works less, doesn’t it become increasingly important that each moment of work be good work? A couple good hours a week used to make those 50-hours-a-week good. Where’s the “good work” balance for 5-hours-a-week? This inherent need to do work that matters gets stronger as one’s trading-with-others needs diminish. This seems to me, to suggest that the necessity of shifting to the “human simply being” becomes more urgent.

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Balance

Once we feel like we’re a little good at something, we cling to that. We cling to wanting others to think we know things and are good at things. We cling to the feeling of knowing what we’re doing.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/destroy/

Balancing continuing to work on what I know, and single mindedly focusing on something new, is the challenge I can never seem to resolve. Destroy all the things I know? …that doesn’t end well. Destroy some of the things I know? …sure, but which ones.

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The chasm between

Too often there is a chasm between our ideas and knowledge on the one hand and our actual experience on the other. We absorb trivia and information that take up mental space but get us nowhere. We read books that divert us but have little relevance to our daily lives. We have lofty ideas that we do not put into practice. We also have many rich experiences that we do not analyze enough, that do not inspire us with ideas, whose lessons we ignore. Strategy requires a constant contact between the two realms.

~ Robert Greene

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Never how it actually goes

This is one of the main obstacles to forming habits. Our hopeful idea of how it will go, and then our disappointment and frustration with ourselves when it doesn’t go that way.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/perfectionism/

Nerd alert: I’ve always appreciated that Babauta takes the time to craft the URL paths (often called the “slug”) by hand. They’re not simply auto-generated from the titles of the posts. I love that this particular one, about perfectionism, has a single-word slug that contains the word “perfect”.

While writing this post I spun off to discover Grammar Monster. Yikes! Driven by my perfectionism, that’s the sort of thing that I could spend hours in. I backed away from it very slowly.

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Time amplifies

The small choices we make on a daily basis either work for us or against us. One choice puts time on your side. The other ensures it’s working against you. Time amplifies what you feed it.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/small-steps-giant-leaps/

I don’t truly know if I’m unique. For me, the only way I can manage to feel as if I’ve enough time in my day is if I’m ruthless with myself about not giving my time away. I’ve spent so many decades feeling harried and busy… only to realize, duh, I did that to myself. I’ve spent so many dark days simply wanting some peace… only to realize, duh, all this craziness, I chose that. Somehow, I managed to slowly let this same idea Parrish mentions seep into my bones. Now I feel like I’m able to relax and simply experience being, through most of my days. Sometimes, I even take naps. My 25-year-old self would be horrified.

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Pathways

It’s the relative appeal of the two paths that determines which one you take. You can equalize these by improving the intended path (making public transit better), obstructing the desire path (making driving worse), or a combination.

~ “Dynomight” from, https://dynomight.net/paths/

This article starts with a simple concept and then iteratively goes far into the weeds to see where else it can be applied. I love minds which explore that way. I have so many habits, idiosyncrasies, and ancient brain quirks that it’s a miracle I ever get anything done. Everything figuratively within my reach is wearing down and coming undone, (entropy wins in the end.) I’ll take any opportunity—as this article suggests—to tip things towards my desired path.

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Going full circle

No matter where your adventure takes you, most of what is truly meaningful is still to be found revolving around the mundane stuff you did before you embarked on your adventure. The stuff that’ll be still be going on long after you and I are both dead, long after our contribution to the world is forgotten.But often, one needs to have that big adventure before truly appreciating this. Going full circle. Exactly.

~ Hugh MacLeod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2008/06/25/meaning-scales-people-dont/

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Rescuing life from productivity

And so we get to the crux of our human predicament — the underbelly of our anxiety about every unanswered email, every unfinished project, and every unbegun dream: Our capacities are limited, our time is finite, and we have no control over how it will unfold or when it will run out. Beyond the lucky fact of being born, life is one great sweep of uncertainty, bookended by the only other lucky certainty we have. It is hardly any wonder that the sweep is dusted with so much worry and we respond with so much obsessive planning, compulsive productivity, and other touching illusions of control.

~ Maria Popova from, https://www.themarginalian.org/2021/12/20/four-thousand-weeks-oliver-burkeman/

For years I’ve been finding myself judging my day, each evening as I go to sleep. I lie down, and try as I might, my thoughts go beyond simply reviewing. I tried to stop doing the judging part, to no avail.

There’s a Steve Jobs quote about asking himself a question each morning, and that’s great, (but not something I do.) I realized that I’m asking myself that question at the end of each day after closing my eyes to beckon sleep:

If that was the last day of my life, am I satisfied with what I did?

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